Saturday, June 12, 2010

Near Enemies

This past week, I started a new mindfulness study and discussion group, and our theme is how to cultivate loving kindness and compassion in daily life in order to reduce our suffering. One aspect of these attributes that I am interested in exploring is their "shadow" side.

It is said that meditation practice deepens us naturally into the experience of the the four Brahma-Viharas or "sublime abodes." These are Loving Kindness (metta), Sympathetic Joy (mudita), Compassion (karuna), and Equanimity (upekkha). Each of these qualities has a shadow side, which are known as the "near enemies." Near enemies resemble the actual Brahma-Viharas, but they are not them exactly. There are also "far enemies" of each abode, which are the opposite of the original quality.

The near enemy of Loving Kindness is attached love. This can take the form of a romantic relationship that is based on dysfunctional co-dependence, or upon lust and desire. As long as we are getting what we want from the relationship, we feel the love. This can also be called "conditional love" - it is affection with strings attached. The far enemy of Loving Kindness is hatred or ill-will.

Compassion's near enemy is pity. When we feel compassion for someone, we hold them close to us, much as we would comfort a small child who is hurt or frightened and has come to us for soothing. Pity, on the other hand, suggests a distancing of ourselves from another; of not seeing them as connected to us in any way but as an object that we need to keep separate from. The far enemy of Compassion is cruelty.

The near enemy of Sympathetic Joy (or happiness derived from seeing the joy of others) is selfish exuberance. This near enemy has a kind of manic quality of clinging to something that is making us happy in the moment. The far enemy would be envy or jealousy, but also schadenfreude, or taking joy in the misfortune of others (see 3/13/10 blog).

Equanimity is the ability to dwell equally with pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, or fame and disrepute. It means that we are able to move equally in both directions as the need arises, without clinging and aversion toward one or the other polarity. Equanimity's near enemy is indifference. Instead of releasing attachment to a preference of how we want things to be (Equanimity), when we are indifferent we are detached from the way things are. It is the quality of apathy that pretends not to care. The far enemy of Equanimity is restlessness or agitation, as we cling desperately to the way we want things to be, or try to push away the things we don't want.

In all cases of the near and far enemies, we are coming up against clinging and aversion, which are the roots of suffering. In order to eradicate suffering, you must destroy it at the roots, and the cultivation of the Brahma-Viharas is a wonderful way to do this. Loving Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity cannot exist in an atmosphere of clinging and aversion. Conversely, releasing grasping and abandoning aversion are sure-fire antidotes to the near and far enemies.

In your practice, and your daily life, be on the look out for the enemies, both near and far. They can take subtle forms, but if there is a hint of clinging and aversion, you can be sure they are present. 



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